Monday, February 29, 2016

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Here's Cassie - it's a bit of a soppy one today. 

Barney came barreling around the corner of the house and skidded to a stop beside me. He planted his haunches on the ground and stared up at me, eyes shining happily and tongue lolling. He exuded joy. I looked at his happy face, momentarily wishing I was him. Life is so simple when you’re a dog.

“Let me guess, Matt is in the back yard? Let’s go see him.”

Barney jumped up as I started walking towards the back of the house, and raced off ahead of me. I came around the corner just in time to see him run to Matt, who was leaning over the garden bed in the back corner. That Matt hadn’t heard my knock on the door was obvious. That he didn’t know Barney was behind him was equally obvious, since he stepped back, straight onto Barney’s foot.

Barney yelped, and Matt did an awkward little hop-skip dance as he tried to avoid Barney and keep his footing. He failed, and fell onto his backside. Barney rushed forward to see if he was ok (presumably anyway) and knocked him onto his back. Matt ended up lying in the garden bed, missing the night scented jasmine by centimetres but landing dead centre on another plant.

“Oh dear.” I hurried forward, while Barney took the opportunity to lick Matt thoroughly on the face.

“Are you ok?” Reaching him I bent down to offer him a hand up.

“Cassie! Hi, I didn’t know you were here, sorry.”

“No problem, you were a bit busy.”

Matt accepted my hand and clambered to his feet, rubbing his backside with his other hand. Barney was distracted by the crushed plant, and after sniffing it with interest, started to dig it up.

“Barney!” We both reacted, me stepping onto the garden to save the plant – which was probably beyond redemption anyway – and Matt reaching for Barney’s collar.

After a brief scuffle Barney was successfully distracted by a stick, which Matt threw into the other corner of the garden. We surveyed the damaged plant.

“It’s so crushed I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s a cuphea, a small one I bought last weekend. I thought it would add a bit of colour in this space.”

“It might come back, if you replant it.”

Matt turned to look at me. “Yes, it’s damaged now, but with the right care it will grow and bloom.”

I met his serious gaze, and felt something shift. “We’re not talking about the plant now are we?”

He smiled, a rueful upturn of his mouth. “You know, in my fantasies you swoon into my arms when I say something profound.”

“Well you’re none too steady on your feet you know.”

His smile became fuller. “A good point. Ok, give me a minute while I replant this little bush. What did you come around for anyway?”

I watched him carefully stand the little plant upright, scooping earth around it and patting it gently into place. Remembering my rose I looked around, and saw it lying on the ground near the corner of the house.

“Just a sec, I forgot something.”

Matt glanced up at me. “Ok, I’ll be here.”

I ran over to the rose, my mind replaying our conversation. Matt hadn’t referred to the marriage proposal, hadn’t said anything about the conversation. Was he now regretting it?

Picking up the rose I stopped my thoughts before they could get on the well-worn track of uncertainty I had been travelling for so long. This was the first day of the rest of our lives, and I wasn’t going to allow anything to stop me from getting it right. Not even, or most particularly, myself.

I ran back to Matt, who was adding some mulch to the soil around the bush. He stood up as I got there, and we both looked at the replanted bush.

“It looks better.”

I glanced sideways at Matt, he seemed serious. I looked back at the plant. It was upright now which was an improvement. But it was still crushed, bits of branches hanging like broken bird wings.

“Maybe you should trim those branches?”

“Yes, you’re right. Poor little plant, it didn’t have much to begin with.”

I watched as he dug around in the disturbed soil close to the night scented jasmine, astonished when he came up with a pair of secateurs.

“You leave your secateurs lying in the garden in case of Barney damage?”

“What? Oh, no, I brought them out here because I was going to cut some of this.” He waved his hand at the jasmine.

“Oh I see.”

I watched him carefully trim the broken branches, and when he had finished had to admit that it did look better. Damaged for sure, but possibly able to recover.

“Right, let’s go inside and get a coffee, and you can tell me why you’re here.”

I followed him inside, passing Barney who was lying on his dog bed, sound asleep. He must have had a big morning.

Inside Matt disappeared to wash his hands, so I put the coffee maker on and dug around in his fridge. I had given him some vanilla slice not long ago and thought there may be some left. Finding it I pulled the container from the fridge. As did so I saw a bottle of champagne, an expensive bottle which was something that Matt didn’t normally buy.

“What’s this?”

I shut the door and turned to see Matt holding the rose I had placed on the table.

My face burning, I put the container down on the counter.

“That’s not quite how I planned it.”

“I know the feeling.”

“Oh Matt, why do you put up with me?”

He came towards me. “Because you’re smart, you’re funny, you’re brave. You light up the room just by being in it. You make me smile, you make me cry. You make me feel alive. When I’m with you I feel like I have everything I need, you’re everything I need. You’ve been through so much and you didn’t let it defeat you. You’re sassy, you’re caring, and you’re kind. You’re sweet and cute and beautiful. I look into your eyes and I see the universe, because you are my universe. Because I love you Cassie.”

I stared at him, speechless. Nobody had ever said such things to me, nobody had ever made me feel…whatever it was I was feeling now. Whatever it was, it was good, it was wonderful. It was love.

“I think I’ll swoon in your arms now, if that’s ok with you.”

He opened his arms wide and I walked into them, into a sweet, loving kiss that promised everything. I kissed him back, my arms wrapped tight around him. I never wanted to let him go.

Eventually we came up for air. Matt touched my cheek with the tip of his finger.

“So, the rose?”

“Ah, yes, the rose.”

I pulled free and went to the table to pick it up. Turning to face Matt I presented it to him with a flourish – ignoring the slight droop to its petals.

“This rose is for you. It is, as you can see, deep red, the colour of love. It’s in full bloom – like my love for you.” These weren’t the words I had planned, but I wanted to show Matt that his feelings were reciprocated, so I was improvising.

“Matt, I’m so sorry I reacted the way I did to your marriage proposal. I didn’t understand, I thought you were offering to marry me only to protect me.  I got it wrong and I’m sorry.”

“You did kind of ruin the moment, but perhaps I should have been more careful in my choice of words.”

“I’m sorry.” I took a deep breath, wondering how to do this next bit.

“So anyway, it’s a leap year this year. So the woman is supposed to do the proposing.” God that sounded wrong, wrong, wrong.

I hesitated, Matt’s expression was a mixture of amusement and bemusement. Ok, he deserved some sort of grand gesture.

I sank to one knee, took his hand, kissed it. Or was that something you did to the pope? Come on Cassie, get on with it.

“Matt Burnett, will you marry me?”

I looked up at him. He looked ready to laugh, which was not the effect I was after.

“Cassie, oh my girl you always surprise me.”

Then he did laugh, a soft chuckle. Pulling me up by the hand still holding his, he wrapped his arms around me and rested his chin on the top of my head. His shoulders were shaking. He was still laughing!

I was indignant. I had just proposed and he was laughing!

“Happy I could entertain you,” I muttered into his shoulder.

Matt leaned back, and tilted my face up to his.

“I was laughing at us Cassie. What a pair we are! We trip and stumble our way through this relationship. Nothing works out the way we plan it. I propose, you run away. You plan a proposal and by the time I get it – due to dogs and plants – the rose you present me is wilted and the setting probably not what you had envisioned.

“Well, when you put it like that.”

“And, Cassie, I was in the garden to cut some of the jasmine so I could bring it inside for tonight. I was going to invite you over, and propose to you properly. I even bought champagne.”

“You were that sure of me. Humph.”

“I figured if you said no I could console myself with some excellent bubbly.”

“You were going to propose tonight?”

He nodded. “Properly, the way you deserve. Yes, I want to marry you to protect you. But more than that I want to marry you because I love you, and I can’t imagine my life without you.”

“So I guess this means you accept my proposal.”

“And I guess this means you accept mine.”

“So, who proposed to whom? Which one of us did the asking?”

Matt laughed again. “Both of us Cassie. We are equal, just as we are equal in everything. Our relationship - our marriage - is a partnership.”

I grinned, that lightness seeping into me. No, not lightness, happiness. Happiness was seeping into me, permeating every corner of my mind.

“So we’re getting married?”

“Looks like it. Guess I can open the champagne now.”

He handed me the rose. “Maybe we should put this poor thing in some water.”

I took it, and went to find a vase while Matt got the champagne. Putting the vase on the table I watched him open the bottle.

“Should we be drinking this early?”

"Did we or did we not just get engaged?”

Oh my, engaged. “We just got engaged.” Was that breathy little voice mine?

The cork came out of the bottle with a satisfying pop. Matt got two glasses from the bench beside the fridge and poured. I watched the golden, bubbly liquid fill the glasses. We were engaged, it seemed unreal.

“Are we doing this too fast?”

Matt slanted me a narrow eyed look. “You’re kidding, right? This has to be the longest, most convoluted courtship in history.”

“Courtship? You were courting me?”

He sighed, came over to me and handed me my glass.

“I was courting you, wondering when you were ever going to notice.”

“I’m so glad you were so patient with me.”

“Cassie, I would have waited for you until the end of time.”

Who knew Matt could be poetic? Or that I would like it? He held his glass up, and I clinked mine to his.

“Cheers Cassie, my fiancĂ©.”

“Here’s to you Matt, my fiancĂ©.”

With those prosaic words we drank to our future.

“This is excellent champagne!”

Matt muttered something about so it should be, but quietly enough that I couldn’t be sure that was what he said.

“Oh! One more thing. Wait here.”

I stood uncertainly, watching as he disappeared from the kitchen. What else could there be? While I waited I drank some more of the champagne, which seemed to be going straight to my head. Or maybe it was the fact that I was now engaged that was making my head swim.

Matt came back into the room, an expression on his face that I could only interpret as bashful.

“Hold out your hand.”

I held out my hand, the left hand since I was holding the glass in my right.


I watched in complete bemusement as Matt slid a ring I recognized onto my ring finger.

“Is that...”

“The ring you admired in the antique store we looked at six months ago? Yes.”

“You bought the ring?” Well duh, here it was sparkling on my finger.

“I did, I went back the next day and bought it. I’ve been waiting ever since for the right moment to give it to you.”

I stared at the ring. It was an antique ring, an oval emerald with seed pearls and diamonds set at intervals around the edge of the setting. The ring itself was gold, with intricate carved swirls that curved around the setting. I had fallen in love with it at the time, but never expected that it would ever be mine.

“Cassie, I didn’t know if I should give it to you as an engagement ring or as a gift. I don’t want you to feel I’m taking control of your life. I mean an engagement ring is a big thing. Maybe we should select it together. If you would rather do that, this ring can be my engagement gift to you.”

I looked at the ring, then at his anxious face.

“Matt, the very fact that you thought about this makes it unnecessary. If we were going to buy an engagement ring, this would be the one I would choose. So why go to buy something I wouldn’t like as much just to make a point?”

I admired the ring again, and the thoughtfulness and caring it represented.

“This ring is perfect, and I couldn’t choose anything better. Thank you, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.”

I put down my glass and flung my arms around his neck.

“I believe this is the part where you sweep me off my feet.”

Matt obliged, picking me up and carrying me out of the kitchen, putting his glass on the table on the way past. He carried me into the bedroom, sitting on the bed with me on his lap.


“What, am I too heavy for you? Did you hurt yourself?”

“No, it’s just my backside. I think I landed on a stone or something. It hurt to sit down. Never mind, it’s fine now.”

I wriggled around on his lap, intending to kiss him senseless.


I tried, and failed, to stifle a laugh.

“Oh, my future wife thinks my pain is funny!”

“I’m sorry, it’s just look at us! Here we are celebrating our engagement and you can’t even sit without pain!”

Matt chuckled. “We’ve lurched from one semi disaster to another haven’t we? But here we are, together.”

I sobered. “Together, and it feels like the best thing in the world.”

I kissed him, deeply and thoroughly, until he took control of the kiss, and I believe he felt no more pain after that.

This is the end of Cassie's story, I hope you all enjoyed it. My next job is to turn it into a novella and publish it. I'll let you know how it's going as I work through the process.

It's not the end of Cassie though, the next book in this series is Saffron's story, which I will be working on soon.

Here, next week, I will be posting another serial, so come back next Monday for a new story.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Not as bad as last week, but still late. And it's getting to the end of the story too! But not this week. When this story is ended I'll be starting another one. So if you are enjoying reading in this way, you will still be able to do so. But more on that when I get to the end of this book - and that's not today. Here's Cassie, still floundering through life...

I sat, feeling numb. Had Matt just proposed? And if he had, was it a marriage proposal or the proposal of a solution to my problem?

“Did you just say ‘marry me’?”

Matt put down his knife and lifted his eyes to mine. His expression was intent, serious. I couldn’t read anything else in his face.

“Cassie, I know what Nathan did to you, I still have nightmares about what he might have done if I had not come along. It doesn’t matter that you will stand up to him, although it’s great that you can. But Cassie, Nathan is much stronger than you. If he decides to force you to have sex with him, you won’t be able to stop him.”

“You mean he could rape me if he chose.”

Matt gave me his steady policeman stare. I couldn’t deny it, and I wasn’t going to try. After all, Nathan had done things during our marriage that were technically rape (the source of many of my nightmares). And the only reason he didn’t succeed after the marriage ended was sitting at my table drinking terrible coffee.

 “Ok, you’re right, he could. I’m hoping that standing up to him just now will solve the problem.”

“You mean because you didn’t give in to him, he will give up?”

“I’ve never been so firm with him before, not even the last time on New Year’s Eve. He hasn’t contacted me since. I was surprised to see him here this morning actually.”

“He’s got some sort of radar where you’re concerned Cassie. What did he want?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I told him to call me about it at another time, so he didn’t say.”

“And you think he will be different now?”

I met his steady gaze. “He left, and he didn’t do anything to me, he didn’t even touch me.”

“That’s because he saw me coming Cassie. He may still have gone, you may be right. But what if he didn’t?”

I sagged in my seat. I should have realized that of course Nathan would see Matt coming. I should have known that it was not just my defiance - my hard won emotional strength - that had sent him away.

Matt leaned forward and took my hands. I looked up at his face, at the earnest expression in his eyes.

“Cassie, Nathan won’t go up against me. He’s a bully at heart. He knows he can physically overwhelm you, but he can’t do the same to me. I can protect you.”

“So you want to marry me so you can protect me?”

“As my wife, you come under my protection officially. I believe that Nathan will leave you alone then. You will be safe from future hassle from him, safe from any threat he may represent.”

“I see.” I looked at my watch. “I have to go get Mark now. You know the way out, I’ll see you later.”

“Cassie?” Matt sounded confused.

I felt more confused. I jumped up from the table, searching for my bag and a brush. I flicked a glance at Matt, unsure how to react, how to behave.

“I’ll think about what you said Matt. I can see the merit to your suggestion, but I do think it’s a drastic step just to protect me. I don’t think Nathan is such a big threat that you need to upend your life just to ensure he doesn’t do anything to me. I’m not sure it would work anyway. What if it made him angry instead?”

Matt stared at me, a frown creasing his brow and a puzzled tilt to his mouth. A small part of me thought it was adorable, but the rest of me was confused and a little bit hurt. Well, a lot hurt. And a lot confused. I threw a wave at Matt and bolted from the house, forcing my mind to focus on the drive to collect Mark and not on the preceding conversation. Or the whole morning. I didn’t know what to think, about any of it. So I did what I do best, and didn’t think at all.

“You did what?! Matt did what?! He PROPOSED???? Oh my dear!”

Saffron jumped up from her seat and rushed around to me, enveloping me in what had to be the tightest death by cleavage hug I had ever received from her. Not the reaction I was looking for when I called her over for an emergency bestie coffee.

I concentrated on breathing until she let go her death grip and reached for my left hand.

“No ring? You’re going to buy it together?”


At my tone she studied my face with narrowed eyes.

“Don’t tell me you told him ‘no’. Don’t make me slap you.” My eyes popped wide at her words, and she hurried to add, “Of course I wouldn’t really slap you. But I’d want to.”

She went and sat back in her seat, fixing me with a penetrating stare equally as effective as Matt’s.

I sighed. “I didn’t say ‘no’.” I held up my hand as I saw her eyes light up. “I didn’t say ‘yes’ either.”

Saffron narrowed her eyes even further. She took a swallow of her coffee, tapped her fingers on the table top and studied my face.

“Let me get this straight. You had a misunderstanding last night but it was sorted. You finally, finally, finally got together and rompypomp ensued.”

I suppressed a smile at her word choice, a word that she had assured me on a number of occasions did exist and did mean what I thought it meant. She stared at me suspiciously for a second before continuing, “You slept over – probably not much sleeping.” I blushed. “You came home to get ready to collect Mark and Matt was coming in a short while with breakfast. Right so far?”

I nodded, so she continued, “When you got home Nathan was waiting for you and you argued and you stood up to him and told him to leave.” She bounced up and down in her chair. “I’m so proud of you for that! So, Nathan left, Matt arrived, possibly both simultaneously or near enough. Matt proposed and you bolted from the house?! What is wrong with you!”

“It was the way he said it. Like he thought we should marry so he could protect me from Nathan. He didn’t talk about feelings, or anything like that.”

“You wanted a romantic proposal?”

“I wasn’t expecting a proposal at all. We’d only just taken our relationship a step further. And he didn’t talk about, about, you know, about feelings. He just talked about me needing protection from Nathan.”

Saffron drank some more coffee, did some more finger tapping. “I am sure that was at the top of his mind. He had come down the path to see Nathan leave and you collapse onto the ground. That’s what he saw isn’t it?”

I played the scene back in my mind. “Yes, I guess so.”

“So he sees you crumpled to the ground, and of course he wants to protect you. He could have just suggested he move in with you, or that you get a restraining order against Nathan. He suggested marriage. Marriage, Cassie. It has to have been on his mind.”

I stared at her, I hadn’t thought along those lines. Saffron tut-tutted.

“I swear Cassie, sometimes you can be so dense. Or maybe it’s that self-destructive bent that you haven’t quite overcome. So ok, Matt could have worded it better. But, did you ever think that maybe he’s been waiting to propose to you for months? That he’s been waiting for you to heal enough to reach out to him, to heal so that you can become the couple everyone else could see you already were? That maybe he was only waiting for you to be ready to take the step so he could say the words that have been burning a hole in his brain?”

She was so eloquent that it was my turn to narrow my eyes in suspicion.

“Has Matt been talking to you?”

“No of course not! Cassie, blind Freddie could see the connection you two have, and how Matt feels about you. And how you feel about Matt. It was only you who didn’t know. And Matt, at least about your feelings for him. Believe me, it’s been the longest, most frustrating soap opera any of us has ever watched, the story of Cassie and Matt!”

I felt a little miffed. “Well sorry to upset your viewing preferences!”

Saffron chuckled. “Don’t be a goose. We all love you, both of you. We’ve just been waiting for you to discover that you loved each other. Well, that you love Matt.”
I blinked in surprise. “You all knew I love him? How? I didn’t know until lately.”

Saffron came around the table again, this time sitting in the chair next to me and putting one arm around me. “Cassie, all your friends who love you know what you’ve been through. We knew you had a lot of processing to do and a lot of healing. We waited, as Matt waited. We waited because we love you.”

She tugged on the ends of my hair, using a bit of force. “But, you have been an idiot this morning. I can understand why, I’m sure Matt can too, or he will once you explain. Cassie, think about how he would be feeling at your reaction to his proposal. You didn’t accept, instead you ran away.”

I face palmed myself. “I did, didn’t I? I didn’t think about it from his perspective.” I groaned. “I’m an idiot. He probably won’t want to talk to me now.”

Saffron laughed. “Of course he will. But I think you have to make the first move this time.”

“I need to go see him.”

“I think so.”

I jumped up, then sat back down again. Saffron anticipated my question.

“I’ll watch Mark, not that I’ll have to do much watching mind you, with the girls here. Get yourself going and see Matt.”

I panicked. “Now?”

Saffron stood up and pulled me to my feet. “No time like the present.”

She pulled me into a hug and then pushed me to the door. “Go, talk to him and don’t run away again! No more running away Cassie.”

No more running away. Good words. Wise words from my wise friend. I went out the door, stopped to pick a deep red rose from my garden, and set off along the path to Matt’s house. It was a leap year right? The girl can propose in a leap year. My steps faltered with my thoughts, but I kept on walking. No more running away, not from the past and not from the future. Reaching Matt’s door, I knocked.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Did you think I'd abandoned Cassie? No, it's just been a hectic week with a lot going on in the real world. Here she is, about to face down Nathan.

As I approached Nathan appeared at the gate – inside the gate. I frowned, not happy that he was at my house while I was absent.


At my words he swung to face me, an expression of relief chased away by a more familiar pinched look. I sighed, my happy bubble collapsing in on me.

“What are you doing here so early?”

Nathan glanced at his watch pointedly. “It’s after 8, hardly early.”

I stopped in front of the gate, reluctant to go through to where Nathan was standing. Aware that my hesitation was giving him power, I firmed my resolve and reached out to open the gate, but my hand froze on the latch as he began his interrogation.

“Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you for ages. Why did you go out without the dogs?” His eyes narrowed as he took in my appearance and no doubt bedhead hair. “Are you wearing last night’s clothes?”

I hesitated a beat too long, fighting an internal war against learned behaviour (submit, say nothing, accept the punishment) and my resolve to break all control Nathan still had over me. He pounced.

“You’ve been at that policeman’s house haven’t you? While our son lies sleeping in this house you’ve been off playing doctor with the copper.”

His words dripped contempt, each syllable burning like acid through my resolve.

“I knew you’d be gagging for it, it’s been a long time hasn’t it Cassie? I bet the copper couldn’t satisfy you the way I can, he doesn’t know you the way I do, he doesn’t know what a bad, dirty girl you are.”

I sagged, his words driving a blade into my deepest fears, ripping off the scab and allowing them to come bubbling up. My happiness and confidence vanished, destroyed in one short paragraph uttered with the scorn and painful accuracy that only Nathan could wield.

“Did you even think of Mark? Or were you too eager for a tumble with the copper?”

“Mark’s at a friend’s house for a sleepover.”

“Well of course he is, how convenient for you. I expect you planned it didn’t you? Your true colours are showing Cassie. It took you long enough, but here you are, a dirty little girl who was so desperate for sex that she seduced the local copper.”

He words were wrong, but there was enough truth in them to make me question myself. I had planned last night, I had hoped for the result, I did want Matt. Was I just the dirty girl Nathan said I was? It had been my fear all along that I stayed with Nathan for so long because secretly I enjoyed the debasement.

“Well if Mark is away how about we go inside and I remind you of what it’s like to have someone who knows how to push your buttons? I bet you’re not satisfied, the policeman wouldn’t know how to satisfy someone like you Cassie, but I do.”

I watched my hand begin to lift the latch, but it stopped as I thought about what he had just said – someone who knows how to push my buttons. That was what Nathan was doing right now, pushing my buttons. And I, weak fool that I still was, had almost given in without a fight.

I lifted my head, looked him straight in the eye. “I don’t think so Nathan.”

“Come on Cassie, those are just words, you don’t have to pretend with me, I know you too well.”

I shook my head, resolve stiffening my spine. I stood taller. “No you don’t Nathan, you don’t know me at all. You know the person you wanted me to be, and I was weak and allowed myself to be manipulated by you. But that’s not me, that has never been me.”

“Of course it’s you. We were married for a long time Cassie, I know you better than anyone, and you know me. Nobody makes me feel the way you do, you’re like a drug.”

I shook my head again. “No, you don’t know me, you made me into someone I wasn’t and I allowed it. But I’m not that person any more Nathan, and I’m never going to be her again.”

Nathan opened his mouth but I held up my hand in the universal stop sign, something I had never done with him before. “No Nathan, I’m not that Cassie, and what’s more I didn’t know you. I deluded myself that I did, I deluded myself that what we had was love but it wasn’t.” I looked at him again, my hand still on the latch. “What we had was a lot of things but it wasn’t love. And I’m not going back to it Nathan.”

Nathan was staring at me in shock. I had never stood up to him like this. I continued – in for a penny, in for a pound as they say, “Yes I was with Matt last night but you know what? It’s none of your business. Not any more.”

I opened the latch, pushed open the gate and stood back. My heart was beating so fast I thought I might faint as I removed the flimsy physical barrier. “I think you should go Nathan. Whatever you needed to talk to me about can wait, and next time call me first.”

Nathan just stood there, staring at me. His face was darkening into a familiar rage and I was terrified of it, but I kept my expression calm, and put my hands behind my back so he couldn’t see them shaking. Remembering how effective a tactic it was when Sue used it on me, I said nothing more, just stood waiting – and hoped my shaking legs would hold me up.

Nathan came through the gate, stood close to me. I stared back at him, willing my expression to remain calm. I knew that if I showed fear or anger he would react. I didn’t know what he would do if I stayed calm and appeared unaffected. I was gambling that if I didn’t react he would leave but I didn’t know if it would work or if it would backfire.

“You’ve changed Cassie. Probably the prissy policeman has been telling you to go against your nature. Or maybe that ‘friend’ of yours, that Saffron. She’s always hated me and she’s always had a bad effect on our marriage.”

I continued to look at him, but still said nothing.

“Well I’ll go, but you haven’t seen the last of me Cassie. You can’t deny your true nature forever. You’ll be back, and I’ll be waiting.” He looked over my head at something. “I’ll leave you to Mr Goody Police Boots. You’ll come crawling back one day.”

With those words he went to his car, hopped in, and drove off without looking back. I stared after him, realizing that in the entire conversation Nathan had not once mentioned Lucy, nor had he referred again to Mark. Talk about true colours – the only person who mattered to Nathan was Nathan.

As his car disappeared I was reminded of my fragile emotional state - and the adrenalin coursing through my body - as my shaking legs failed me and I sank unceremoniously onto the pavement beside the gate.

A strong hand appeared in front of my eyes, Matt’s hand. He was here with the promised breakfast. A wet doggy tongue rasped down my cheek, making me laugh and helping to stop the tears that were threatening. I patted Barney, took Matt’s hand and allowed myself to be pulled to my feet.

“Can you make it inside? I’m worried that if I put this food down you know who will scoff the lot.”

I looked properly at Matt. In his other hand was a McDonald’s bag and a cardboard tray holding what I thought was coffee. I narrowed my eyes at it.

“I thought you were cooking breakfast? And McDonald’s coffee? What’s wrong with mine?”

He shrugged. “I have a weakness for their coffee, it’s a vice I know.”

Unlacing our fingers, he wrapped his arm around my waist and supported me in through the gate. I managed to get my key into the front door lock, smiling at the joyful barking that erupted with the sound.

Once inside Matt gave me a little push towards the kitchen. “Take the food and go sit down.” As I went towards the kitchen he went to the laundry where the dogs had spent the night. “I’ll let this pair out with Barney, we can feed them later on.”

I nodded, reached the kitchen, put the food and coffee onto the table and sand down into the nearest chair, reaction setting in.

By the time Matt came back the tears were rolling unchecked down my cheeks. “Oh darlin’ girl, what did he do?”

He pulled a chair close and sat in it, putting his arms around me. I let the tears soak into his shirt until the worst of the reaction had abated. Pulling away, I patted ineffectually at the damp spot I had left on his shoulder.

Matt handed me the rapidly cooling coffee. I took a gulp, grimacing at the taste. Slowly, I told him all that had happened. When I finished he said nothing for a while, just took out the food (pancakes and hash browns) and handed it to me.

“Eat Cassie, you need it for the shock.”

He waited until I had taken a few mouthfuls before saying any more.

“That was so brave of you Cassie, I’m so proud of you.”

I shrugged. “I know now that I won’t give into him. But how do I stop him?”

Matt said nothing, his face flushing.

“Matt? Are you blushing?”

“Well I did think of a way you could stop him, I’m sure it would work. If you wanted to I mean. I mean not just as a way of stopping Nathan but you know, if you wanted to.”

This was almost incoherent, and unlike Matt who almost never lost his cool.

“Matt? I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

Matt started to make patterns in his maple syrup with his knife. I stared at the patterns, mesmerized by this behaviour that reminded me of Mark when he was about to say something and didn’t know what sort of reception he would get.


Still making patterns in the syrup Matt spoke so softly that I had to lean forward to hear him.

“You could marry me.”